This Is Your Idea of a Great Firebird?

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Classic Records 45 RPM Debunked

Sonic Grade: C-

A customer alerted me to a review Wayne Garcia wrote about various VPI platters and the rim drive, and this is what I wrote back to him:

Steve, after starting to read Wayne’s take on the platters, I came across this:

That mind-blowing epiphany that I hadn’t quite reached with the Rim Drive/Super Platter happened within seconds after I lowered the stylus onto the “Infernal Dance” episode of Stravinsky’s Firebird (45 rpm single-sided Classic Records reissue of the incomparable Dorati/LSO Mercury Living Presence recording).

See more of Stravinsky’s music

That is one of my half-dozen or so favorite orchestral recordings, and I have played it countless times.

This is why I have so little faith in reviewers. I played that very record not two weeks ago (04/2010) against a good original and the recut was at best passable in comparison. If a reviewer cannot hear such an obvious difference in quality, why believe anything he has to say? The reason we say that no reviewer can be trusted is that you cannot find a reviewer who does not say good things about demonstrably bad and even just plain awful records. It’s the only real evidence we have for their credibility, and the evidence is almost always damning.

I want a reviewer who knows better than to play such a seriously flawed pressing and then proceed to waste my time telling me about it. He should tell us what a good record sounds like with this equipment mod. Then I might give more credence to what he has to say.

P.S.

This is one of the Classic Records titles on Harry Pearson’s TAS List of Super Discs (!).

P.P.S.

Allow me to quote a writer with his own website devoted to explaining and judging classical recordings of all kinds. His initials are A.S. for those of you who have been to his site.

Classic Records Reissues (both 33 and 45 RPM) – These are, by far, the best sounding Mercury pressings. Unfortunately, only six records were ever released by Classic. Three of them (Ravel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky) are among the very finest sounding records ever made by anyone. Every audiophile (with a turntable) should have these “big three”.

Obviously we could not disagree more. I’ve played all six of the Classic Mercurys; the Ravel and Prokofiev titles are actually even worse than the Stravinsky we reviewed.

 

 

At Ease With Coleman Hawkins – Another Triumph for Rudy Van Gelder

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This 1960 Saxophone Ballad session has to be seen as yet another recording triumph for Rudy Van Gelder. The best pressings of these OJC reissues from 1989 sound like the vintage jazz albums they emulate, and sometimes they even beat the originals at their own Tubey Magical game. They can be every bit as rich, sweet and spacious as their earlier-pressed brethren in our experience.

In the case of At Ease with Coleman Hawkins, we simply have never seen an original copy clean enough to buy, so we have no reference for what an original would sound like.

More Coleman Hawkins

But, having critically auditioned literally hundreds and hundreds of vintage jazz records over the course of the last few years, we’re pretty confidant we know what they are supposed to sound like.

And they sound just like the best copies of this very pressing.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The best copies are rich and tubey; many pressings were thin and modern sounding, and for that they would lose a lot of points. We want this record to sound like something RVG recorded in 1960, and the best copies give you that sound, without the surface noise and groove damage the originals doubtless have to offer.

Some copies have much more space; some are more present, putting the musicians right in the room with you; some are more transparent, resolving the musical information much better than others, letting you “see” everyone in the studio clearly. Some have more rhythmic drive than others. On some the musicians seem more involved and energetic than they do on the average pressing.

The copies that do all these things better than other copies are the ones that win our shootouts.

Miles Davis once said: “When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads.” 16 out of 16 customers on Amazon give this album Five Stars – when have you ever seen such a thing?

COLEMAN HAWKINS

Coleman Randolph Hawkins, nicknamed Hawk and sometimes “Bean”, was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. One of the first prominent jazz musicians on his instrument, as Joachim E. Berendt explained: “there were some tenor players before him, but the instrument was not an acknowledged jazz horn”. While Hawkins is strongly associated with the swing music and big band era, he had a role in the development of bebop in the 1940s.

Fellow saxophonist Lester Young, known as “Pres”, commented in a 1959 interview with The Jazz Review: “As far as I’m concerned, I think Coleman Hawkins was the President first, right? As far as myself, I think I’m the second one.” Miles Davis once said: “When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads.”

Wikipedia

MORE RECORDINGS BY RUDY VAN GELDER

MORE RECORDINGS FROM 1960

1979 – Candy-O and the Year in Music

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We’re big fans of this album, and a Shootout Winning Hot Stamper copy like this one will show you exactly why. It’s a favorite recording of ours here at Better Records for one very simple reason: Candy-O has got The BIG ROCK SOUND we love!

Drop the needle on Let’s Go and check out the sound of the big floor tom. When the drummer bangs on that thing, you FEEL it! It’s similar to the effect of being in the room with live musicians — it’s the difference between hearing the music and feeling the music. That difference is what you get from our best Hot Stamper copies when you turn them up good and loud and let them ROCK your world.

A New Wave Classic

What other New Wave band ever recorded an album with this kind of demonstration quality sound? The sound of the best copies positively JUMPS out of the speakers. No album by Blondie, Television, The Pretenders or any of their contemporaries can begin to compete with this kind of huge, lively, powerful sound, with the possible exception of the Talking Heads’ Little Creatures.

It Rocks!

If you have big dynamic speakers and like to rock you cannot go wrong here. Neil Young albums have the Big Rock sound, and if you’re more of a Classic Rock kind of listener, that’s a good way to go. We’re behind you all the way, just check out our commentary for Zuma .

For a band with skinny ties, leather jackets, jangly guitars, synths and monstrously huge floor toms that fly back and forth across the soundstage, Candy-O is the girl for you, no doubt about it.

1979 – The Year in Music

1979 sure was an interesting year. The Wall, Breakfast in America, London Calling, Off the Wall, Get the Knack, Damn the Torpedoes, Armed Forces, Spirits Having Flown, Tusk, The B-52s, Rust Never Sleeps, Rickie Lee Jones, and our bad boy here, Candy-O — the variety is remarkable.

Even more remarkable is the number of albums recorded in ’79 that sound fresh and engaging to this day, more than 35 years after they were released. I could sit down in front of my speakers today and play any one of them all the way through. Try that with ten favorite albums from ’89, ’99 or ’09.

Albums from 1979 in stock

All albums from 1979

Leonard Bernstein – Conducts Symphonic Dances…

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.
One of the great Columbia recordings. I suspected it might have been done at the legendary 30th St studios in New York but I was wrong, Manhattan Center’s huge stage served as the venue. Either way the sound is no less glorious.

More of the music of (or music conducted or performed by) Leonard Bernstein
  • Side one is White Hot, with the richest, widest and deepest sound we heard in our shootout
  • Side two is Super Hot, bringing into view the clear, clean sound of a ‘live recording” from Manhattan Center in 1961
  • The music is wonderful of course, with the Suites giving you all the best parts and none of the filler
  • Vibrant orchestrations, top quality sound and fairly quiet surfaces combine for an engrossing listening experience

Side One

The big advantage this side had over most is the fullness of the brass. The shrill sound of the brass on most Columbia albums is what gets them tossed in the trade pile. Fortunately the sound here is rich and clean, with solid deep bass.

The stage is huge, with the multi-miking kept to a minimum so that you can really hear the space.

Side Two

Very similar sound to side one, with a huge stage and very clean cutting. It’s big and lively, but side one has an advantage in the weight department, so we are calling this side Super Hot.


On the Waterfront

When he was asked to compose the score for On the Waterfront in 1954, Leonard Bernstein was 35 and already a major celebrity, but otherwise an unlikely candidate for the job. He had never written a movie score, and was not enthusiastic about doing it. In his 1959 book The Joy of Music [highly recommended by the way] (in a chapter whimsically titled “Interlude: Upper Dubbing, California”) Bernstein wrote:

When I was first shown a rough cut of the picture I thought it a masterpiece of direction; and Marlon Brando seemed to me to be giving the greatest performance I had ever seen him give, which is saying a good deal. I was swept by my enthusiasm into accepting the commission to write the score, although I had [until then] resisted all such offers on the grounds that it is a musically unsatisfactory experience for a composer to write a score whose chief merit ought to be its unobtrusiveness.”

Bernstein contributed compelling, distinctive music that gave the film much of its intensity, and received one of On the Waterfront’s12 Academy Award nominations (he didn’t win). Still, being a novice, he was shocked at the way his music was chopped up to serve the film: entire scenes were cut, music was turned abruptly on and off, and a piece “planned as a composition, with a beginning, middle and end, would be silenced seven bars before the end.” Kazan used music sparingly (typically when there wasn’t much dialogue), and only 35 minutes of Bernstein’s music made it into the 107-minute film. Wrote Bernstein:

And so the composer sits by, protesting as he can, but ultimately accepting, be it with heavy heart, the inevitable loss of a good part of his score. Everyone tries to comfort him. ‘You can always use it in a suite.’ Cold comfort. It is for the good of the picture, he repeats numbly to himself.

The Symphonic Suite in which he used it is in five connected sections. The slow first section is the prelude to the movie, accompanying the very stark-looking credits that begin the film. The succeeding Presto barbaro, ushered in by percussion (as it is at the start of the film’s action) contains music that accompanies the frequent violence in the film. A central Andante largamente is based on the love-interest music. The fourth and fifth sections are from the final scenes, in which the hero fights with the mobsters and then staggers, bloody and bruised, to lead the dock workers (physically) into the warehouse and (symbolically) out of the domination of the gangsters.

LA Phil

More Shootout Winners from 2015

More Shootout Winners from 2016

The Doors – L.A. Woman – Our Shootout Winner from 2016

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

The first White Hot Stamper version of L.A. Woman to EVER hit the site! This is a 2-pack set with a Triple Plus (A+++) copy for side one and a Double Plus (A++) copy for side two. The sound here goes DRAMATICALLY beyond the average copy — huge, super lively and very rich.

Engineered by the man responsible for the amazing sound on The Doors’ albums, BRUCE BOTNICK.

More of The Doors

We’ve been struggling with this album for YEARS with practically nothing to show for it until very recently. Most copies aren’t even as good as the CD, and just finding clean copies that have stampers with any potential has become incredibly difficult. Both of these copies have one real killer of a side and one that just doesn’t cut it. (The flipside of the Triple Plus side one is actually decent, but we wanted to pair it with the better side two we found to create a monster of a 2-pack.)

Only a small handful of Hot Stamper copies have ever hit the site and none of them have rated as highly as this. The last time we got around to this shootout was two years ago, which should tell you something about how hard the right pressings are to come by. And make no mistake — the less-than-right pressings are often DREADFUL sounding. We’ve been looking for great L.A. Woman sound on vinyl for decades and it took us until relatively recently to have anything to show for it.

More Shootout Winners from 2016

Stevie Wonder’s Second Masterpiece

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In my humble opinion this is clearly the second of Stevie Wonder’s two MASTERPIECES.

It could also be one of the Great Albums You May Not Know.

Over the course of the last year or two, for the first time in my life I’ve really gotten to know the album well, having found a CD at a local store to play in the car. I’ve listened to Fulfillingness’ First Finale scores of times and now see that is some of the best work Stevie Wonder ever did, right up there with Innervisions and miles ahead of any other Stevie Wonder album.

More Stevie Wonder

To my mind the best songs on the album are the quieter, more heartfelt and emotional ones, not the rockers or funky workouts. My personal favorites on side one are: Smile Please. Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, Too Shy to Say and Creepin’, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are all the songs that weren’t hits.

On side two the two slowest songs are the ones I now like best: It Ain’t No Use & They Won’t Go When I Go (famously and brilliantly covered by George Michael on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 in 1990).

If you take one of our Hot Stampers home see if you don’t find something very special about the tracks I have noted above.

Balance

Our original pressings have the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in a real concert hall, this is the record for you. It’s what Golden Age Recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but new records do not, ever.

What is lost in these newly remastered recordings? Lots of things, but the most obvious and bothersome is transparency.

And that also turns out to be the main issue with Fulfillingness. Many copies are thick and opaque. Finding the right balance between Tubey Magical Richness and Transparency is the trick, and we think our best copies strike that balance well.

Ry Cooder Plays Jazz

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See all of our Ry Cooder albums in stock

We’re big fans of Ry here at Better Records, and it’s always a lot of fun to hear the eccentric instruments and arrangements he and his cohorts cook up. Of course, it’s even more fun when you get a great sounding pressing like this one!

Far Beyond Your Average Rock or Jazz Record

The instrumentation here goes far beyond your average rock or jazz record. Rounding up a panoply of relatively exotic instruments for an album doesn’t make it especially noteworthy. Thankfully Cooder’s up to more than that. Using an ensemble of seriously talented musicians, as well as studio engineers who really understand how to capture these instruments, with Jazz Cooder succeeds in giving the audiophile public a full course spread of new and unusual sounds, all the while staying true to these popular songs from days long gone.

Case in point: check out the mandobanjo on Face To Face That I Shall Meet Him, handled superbly by the one and only David Lindley, a man who has played practically every stringed instrument ever invented. That’s a sound you don’t hear every day.

Tuba — Ya Gotta Love It!

On the same track the listener is treated to a wonderful sounding tuba (one of the toughest instruments to record by the way) handling a sizable portion of the rhythmic chores. It’s punchy, huge, and powerful, yet it manages to add uniquely subtle shadings to the mix, never for a moment calling attention to itself. These instrumental choices are not evidence of Ry Cooder showing off his legendary musical knowledge. This is the authentic Ry Cooder, here using his musical knowledge to bring these songs back to life for an audience that barely knew they existed in the first place.

Transparency Is Key

The best copies realistically convey the live-in-the-studio quality of the music. This is a tight ensemble working at the top of their game, no surprise there; Ry surrounds himself with nothing but the best.

But the better copies have such amazingly transparent sound you can’t help feeling as though you really are in the presence of live human beings You really get the sense of actual fingers plucking those guitar strings. You hear mouths blowing air through horns and woodwinds.

These are sounds that most recordings pretend to capture, and like hypnotist’s subjects, we go along for the ride. This recording has the potential to actually bring forth that living, breathing musician sound, no imagination required.

The Typical Copy

The typical pressing of this record doesn’t even hint at how magical this album can sound. If your copy isn’t exceptionally full-bodied, rich, and sweet, you can bet that it will sound edgy and irritating with the kind of repeated listenings required to fully appreciate and enjoy this music.

THE TAS LIST

There’s a reason this record is on the TAS list, but you’d never know it by playing the average Columbia pressing. Most copies of this record just sound like an old record. You would never even know how magical this recording is by playing a copy that, for all intents and purposes, appears to be the pressing Harry Pearson is recommending on his Super Disc list.

The catalog number is the same, the sound is not. Unless you have at least a dozen copies of this record you have very little chance of finding even one exceptional side.

This has always been the problem with the TAS list. The pressing variations on a record like this are HUGE and DRAMATIC. There is a world of difference between this copy and what the typical audiophile owns based on HP’s list. I’ve been complaining for years that the catalog number that Harry supplies has very little benefit to the typical audiophile record lover.

Without at least the right stampers, the amount of work required to find a copy that deserves a Super Disc ranking is daunting, requiring the kind of time and effort that few audiophiles could ever devote to such a difficult and frustrating project.

The Graceland Remastering Disaster Part 2

 

Analogplanet Visits Sterling Sound and Interviews Mastering Engineer Ryan K. Smith

The interviewer apparently does not know how bad the new version sounds, but we had no trouble recognizing its awfulness here at Better Records and, as a public service, set about  describing what we heard on our site.

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing?

More Graceland

Well, in favor of that proposition I guess you could say it sounds less like a CD now. On the other side of the ledger, it now sounds a great deal more like a bad LP.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know what the album generally sounds like, the range from bad to good, and we know what qualities the very best copies must have in order to win one of our shootouts.

Above all the one thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals. The best of the best copies have all these qualities, but the one quality any good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s good about the sound of the record. Without clarity the music doesn’t even work.

The new version has been “fixed”. It got rid of all that pesky grit and grain and CD-like sound from the original digital mix by heavy-handedly equalizing them away.

Cut the top, cut the upper mids, boost the lower mids and upper bass and voila – now it’s what Graceland would have sounded like had it been all analog from the start, AAA baby!

Or at least analog for those who don’t know what good analog sounds like.

But it never was all analog, and trying to make it sound that way just ruins the one quality that it actually had going for it — clarity.

VTA

You can adjust your VTA and other table settings until you’re blue in the face, you’ll never get this pressing to sound right, and you’ll certainly never get it to sound very much like any Sterling original pressing I’ve ever heard.

The digital spit and grit is still there, under the darker EQ. And now it’s even worse — Simon’s voice has a thick, dull blanket over it, but you can still hear the spit underneath it.

You could probably take the CD and equalize it to sound like this record. But what would be the point?

The Bright Side

Well, perhaps there is a point to this equalization madness.

The CD already exists. It has a sound.

The original record has a sound too, and it’s a fairly common LP in the used bins. You could buy two or three for not that much money and try to find one you like better than the vinyl version you probably already own.

Or, dissatisfied with the sound of the original records and CDs above, and not in the market to spend hundreds of dollars on a good copy from us, you could look at the new Heavy Vinyl pressing as another option, a different take, a new approach, something along those lines.

Just don’t think that by doing so you’re going to hear Graceland the way Paul Simon, Roy Halee, or the folks at Sterling wanted you to hear it.

They produced millions of copies that mostly sound one way, and now some fellows — at least one of whom was involved with the new project, to be fair, but it was 40 years ago(!), and it’s fair to point that out too, right? — some new fellows have produced a few thousand copies that sound another way.

It’s clear to us who got it right, but based on what I’ve been reading in preparation for writing this commentary, the audiophile reviewers and at least some of the audiophile public at large see it quite differently.

Our Offer

We are more than happy to let you decide the issue for yourself. Rather than throwing up our hands and saying “we give up”, we actually would like to help you make an informed decision.

To that end we will happily send you our copy of the Heavy Vinyl version along with your purchase of any Hot Stamper of Graceland on the site. Play them head to head and let the chips fall where they may.

The only thing we ask is that you return it to us so the next person who wants to compare the two can do so. (Assuming you like the Hot Stamper better of course. If you don’t, send them both back for a full refund, including the domestic shipping. No, really, we insist.)

 

The Pentangle

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This is an honest-to-goodness Demo Disc. When for a (thankfully) brief time back in the ’70s I was selling audio equipment, the song “Pentangling” was a favorite demo cut to play in the store. The sound of the string bass and snare drum are amazingly natural; I don’t know of any other pop album from the era that presents the vibrant timbre of those two instruments better.

More Pentangle

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The Transatlantic British originals can be quite good as well, but are very tough to come by in good condition these days, and pricey when you find them. This record easily qualifies for our Top 100 List, it’s that good (but unfortunately too rare to make the cut).

Both Sides

Clean, clear and super high-rez. Also rich and full with a huge bottom end. Hard to Fault (HTF)!

The true foundation of the music is provided by two legendary guitar heavyweights, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. With Jacqui McShee’s almost unbearably sweet vocals soaring above them, this album presents the classic lineup at its best, with superior sonics to boot.

It’s Acoustic!

The unprocessed folky sound found throughout the album has its audiophile credentials fully in order, especially in the area of guitar harmonics, as well as drums that sound like real drums actually sound. (How many of the ’70s rock albums in our Top 100 have that natural drum sound? Not many when you stop to think about it.)

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The guitars are close-miked and very dynamic, with a tendency to be slightly dry. Immediacy is what they were after and immediacy is what they got — on the best copies, the ones with little to no smear and the richness to keep the tonality balanced.

Hi-Fi Free

Notice how there is nothing — not one instrument or voice — that has a trace of hi-if-ishness. No grain, no sizzle, no zippy top, no bloated bottom, nothing that reminds you of the phony sound you hear on audiophile records at every turn. Silky sweet and Tubey Magical, this is the sound we love here at Better Records.

We bash the crap sound found on the recordings of Diana Krall, Patricia Barber and their ilk because we’ve heard records like this and know that THIS is how good a female vocal recording can be. There is a difference, and this record will make that difference clear to anyone who takes the time to play it.

Top 100

Why isn’t an amazing sounding recording of such high quality music on our Top 100 Rock and Pop list? Simple — we can’t find more than one good copy every two or three years, which means that the link you would see in the Top 100 section would link to no active copies for years at a time.

There are scores of records we’ve played over the years that deserve to be on the list, if only we could find them.

Note that the domestic copies of the album on Reprise can be very good sounding, but the imports such as this one are in an entirely different sonic league.

Bert’s The Man

Bert Jansch is considered to be one of the greatest acoustic folk guitarists who ever lived. Word has it that he strongly influenced the playing of Jimmy Page, who may in fact have stolen some of Jansch’s best licks. We will leave that controversy for others to sort out; stolen or not, the licks are plenty hot for those of you who like your acoustic guitars complex and folky (as opposed to, say, Cat Stevens’s guitars, which tend to be simple and poppy, not that we love them any the less for it).

Musicians and Instruments

Terry Cox – Drums, percussion
Bert Jansch – Guitar, vocals
Jacqui Mcshee – Vocals
John Renbourn – Guitar, vocals
Danny Thompson – Bass